City officials were privately hoping it wouldn't happen - but it has. After a Stanislaus County Superior Court judge ruled in November that the Walmart Supercenter project has met stringent environmental reviews, an opposition group labeling themselves "Citizens for Ceres" is continuing its fight of the 26-acre Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center.
City Manager Toby Wells announced at Monday's City Council meeting that the group has filed their notice of appeal. The group's legal appeal of the county court decision to the Fifth District Court of Appeals means that the fight could drag on another year or longer.
"That will add a considerable amount of time to the overall process," said Wells. "I don't know what those time frames are but the idea that we had was approximately another year to the overall process. Obviously it's disappointing but not unexpected."
"Citizens for Ceres" had until Feb. 2 to file an appeal of the court decision that ruled against them in their fight against the project. In November Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Roger Beauchesne ruled that there is "substantial evidence" that the city and Walmart followed CEQA law.
In 2011 the Ceres City Council approved the shopping center for the northwest corner of Mitchell and Service roads. The shopping center hasn't been developed because of the group spearheaded by Sheri Jacobson and represented by Walmart foe attorney Brett Jolley.
"Citizens" is fighting the project on the assertion that the Environmental Impact Report - which took 2 1/2 years to craft - did not adequately follow environmental review law. Jacobson maintains that the project EIR is "legally defective" which "should not have been certified by the city of Ceres."
Jolley unsuccessfully argued in court that the shopping center would have negative adverse impacts on air quality and impact on the county landfill and asserts that urban decay and blight will likely occur at the existing Walmart store site when it closes for the Supercenter opening. Wells said the claims that the county Fink Road landfill - which has enough capacity for the next 100 years - cannot handle the shopping center's waste was "grasping at straws."
In his ruling, Beauchesne agreed with the EIR in its prediction that the center will generate an estimated $327,000 in additional sales tax annually for the city and 250 more jobs. "Citizens" has maintained that there would be no benefit in jobs and tax base because the Supercenter would result in the closure of other businesses.
In a statement issued on Nov. 7, Jacobson said: "We are disappointed in the court's ruling. ‘Citizens for Ceres' still strongly believes the Supercenter will have negative impacts on our great community that will outweigh any positives. We are evaluating our options."
First proposed in 2007 by a different group, Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center would consist of a 185,668-square-foot Supercenter and 10 other retail shops totaling 114,162 square feet. Specifically, the project includes three other major tenants, four smaller shops, a stand-alone retail building and two to three new eating establishments. No tenants besides Walmart have been named but Applebee's has expressed interest.
Jolley has a history of waging war against Walmart projects in other communities, including Bakersfield, Clovis, Chico, Elk Grove, Crescent City and Milpitas. "Citizens" leaders have not disclosed how they are paying for the expensive costs of waging their fight in court but some Walmart supporters and city officials claim local grocer interests are funding the fight.